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Events canceled due to coronavirus: How to get your money back

Months into the pandemic, many consumers are still waiting on refunds for events that have been canceled or are in limbo


COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of a number of upcoming events. You stand the highest chance of getting a refund if you paid for your tickets or booked travel with a credit card, though that might lead to consequences from the ticket seller. Here are some tips.

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The spread of COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of a tremendous number of upcoming events.

This encompasses everything from major sports to music festivals to business conferences and Broadway shows. In these unprecedented times, how is a ticket holder supposed to get their money back?

Many major sellers are promising automatic refunds for canceled events – including Ticketmaster. You should wait a billing cycle or two, and if you still haven’t seen the charges reversed on whichever card you used, I recommend contacting the ticket seller at that point.

If you paid with cash, I expect you’ll need to deal with the box office directly (or wherever else you bought the tickets).

StubHub made a controversial change to its policy and is not currently giving actual money back for events canceled due to COVID-19. Instead, it’s offering a future ticket credit worth 120% of the purchase price. Many customers are upset, and multiple class-action lawsuits are pending.

See related: Credit card issuers offer cardholders relief amid coronavirus fears

Coronavirus effect: Postponed vs. canceled event

There’s a big distinction, however, between a postponed and a canceled event. If the event has been rescheduled and not completely called off, then you probably won’t get an automatic refund. Instead, your ticket will be valid for the new date, if and when there is one.

For months, thousands of NBA, NHL and MLB games scheduled for the spring and summer fell into this category. They didn’t happen as planned, but for a long time, there was hope they would be rescheduled. The three leagues elected to proceed without any fans through the ends of their respective seasons, which released a lot of refunds.

There’s also a potential domino effect that extends well beyond the event ticket. Festivals such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and Coachella in Southern California are good examples because many ticket holders also bought flights to get them to the event and lodging to house them throughout their stay. Airlines and hotels have generally been forgiving, but Airbnb initially refused many refund requests.

It seems like that changed with respect to Coachella; it fit Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy after a public health emergency was declared in that part of Southern California. But many prospective South by Southwest attendees didn’t appear to get Airbnb refunds. This is a classic instance in which I’d advise polite but persistent action. Try asking the Airbnb host, Airbnb itself and then your card issuer for a refund.

For what it’s worth, SXSW also refused to issue ticket refunds after its cancellation, instead deferring admission to the conference for one of the next three years with a 50% discount in one of the other two years. Coachella initially postponed its event until October and offered refunds for ticket holders who were unable or unwilling to attend on the new dates.

That’s a generous policy that Live Nation, TicketMaster’s parent company, also adopted after numerous complaints. It helps when there’s a new date on the calendar, but not when the event’s fate is undecided. Coachella later decided to scrap its 2020 event entirely and is now offering a refund or ticket exchange for 2021.

What to do if the merchant refuses to give you a refund

Before exploring any other options, ask the merchant for your money back. So if you bought a ticket on StubHub or a Delta flight through Expedia, your first line of defense would be to contact StubHub or Expedia. I generally recommend calling, although you could try another contact method, like email or online chat. You might need to be persistent to get a response.

If the merchant refuses to refund you, you have a few other options:

File a credit or debit card dispute

Assuming you paid with a card, file a dispute on this charge. Credit cards usually have more generous fraud and dispute resolution protections than debit cards.

Part of that is because credit card charges are really the bank’s money – a line of credit – until you pay them back. Whereas with a debit card, it’s your money taken directly from your checking account. So pick your metaphor with a debit card (it’s hard to get that toothpaste back into the tube, the horse back into the barn … you get the idea).

It might take the bank or issuer several weeks to look into this. If you used a credit card, you might receive a provisional credit, and you’re not required to pay for disputed items while the investigation is ongoing. Most of the time, you should be able to initiate the dispute (also known as a chargeback) on your own, but for more complicated situations, it could help to enlist an expert to advocate for you.

MyChargeBack is one such example (they provide free initial consultations and fees may apply after that). You only get one shot at a chargeback, so you want to make sure to put your best foot forward. Note that a few companies, including Ticketmaster and StubHub, have clauses allowing them to ban users who file chargebacks against them. It still might be worth it, just be aware of this possibility.

Contact an interested third party

The vast majority of refund requests should be successfully resolved by contacting the merchant or your credit or debit card company. If you didn’t get what you wanted, you still have options, but you’re facing more of an uphill battle.

My next suggestion is to reach out to what I’ll call an interested third party. That is, if you already tried the Airbnb host, now contact Airbnb’s corporate office (or vice versa). Or if you already tried Expedia, now give the airline a call. If the ticket agency didn’t reimburse you for that concert or game, maybe now you should try the venue, concert promoter or team.

Get creative and explore all possible options. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, either. While you’d probably prefer your actual money back, if you’re not getting anywhere, think about suggesting a partial refund or a voucher that you can put toward a future purchase.

Other options

If you still don’t get the results you want, you might need to consider putting some pressure on the merchant through other means:

  1. Pursue legal possibilities like arbitration and small claims court
  2. Consider appealing to a regulator, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or your state attorney general’s office
  3. Make public complaints through social media and to organizations like the Better Business Bureau.

Applying public pressure sometimes gets results, but make sure you’re civil and truthful.

See related: ‘COVID surcharges’ are spreading, and consumers aren’t happy

Bottom line

Remember, no one cares as much about your money as you do, and your persistence could pay off. Be polite but firm. If you hit a dead-end, try another route. You probably have more potential solutions than you realize. Don’t be deterred if you made the purchase a while ago – you often see 120 days listed as a dispute deadline, but that clock starts ticking once the event was canceled or the goods were not received. And even outside that window, there can be some wiggle room. Pursuing a refund is absolutely worth a try.

Have a question about credit cards? Email me at and I’d be happy to help.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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